An Offer You Can’t Refuse #19: Scarface (dir by Brian DePalma)


“Hello to my little friend!”

Hi, little friend….

BOOM!

The 1983 film, Scarface, is a misunderstood film.  As we all know, it’s the story of Tony Montana (Al Pacino), who comes to Miami from Cuba along with his friend, Manny (Steven Bauer).  In return for murdering a former member of Castro’s government, Tony is given a job working for Frank Lopez (Robert Loggia).  When it becomes obvious that Tony is becoming too ambitious and might become a threat to him, Frank attempts to have Tony killed.  However, the assassination attempt fails, Tony murders Frank, and then Tony becomes Miami’s richest and most powerful crime lord.  Soon, Tony is burying his face in a mountain of cocaine while making deals with a sleazy Bolivian drug lord named Alejandro Sosa (Paul Shenar).  Tony also marries Frank’s mistress, Elvira Hancock (Michelle Pfieffer), though it’s obvious from the start the the only person that Tony truly loves is his sister, Gina (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio).  Anyway, it all eventually leads to a lot of violence and a lot of death.  Even F. Murray Abraham ends up getting tossed out of a helicopter, which is unfortunate since his character was a lot of fun.

Scarface is a famous film, largely because of Oliver Stone’s quotable dialogue and the no holds barred direction of Brian DePalma.  However, I think that people get so caught up on the fact that this is a classic gangster film that they miss the fact that Scarface is also an extremely dark comedy.  It satirizes the excess of the 80s.  Once Tony reaches the top of the underworld, he becomes a parody of the nouveau riche.  He moves into a gigantic house and proceeds to decorate it in the most tasteless way possible and there’s something oddly charming about this crude, not particularly bright man getting excited over the fact that he can finally afford to buy a tiger.  Towards the end of the film, there’s a scene where Tony rants while lounging in an indoor hot tub while Elvira languidly snorts cocaine and complains about the crudeness of his language and, at that moment, Scarface becomes a bit of a domestic comedy.  Tony’s reached the top of his profession, just to discover that it takes more than a live-in tiger and a wardrobe of wide lapeled suits to achieve true happiness.  So, he ends up sitting glumly in his office with a mountain of cocaine rising up in front of him.  “The world is yours” may be Tony’s motto but it turns out that the world is extremely tacky.  For all of his attempts to recreate himself as a wealthy and sophisticated man, Tony is still just a barely literate criminal with a nasty scar and a sour disposition.  The only thing he’s gotten for all of his ruthless ambition is an order of ennui with a cocaine appetizer.

I’ve always found Brian DePalma to be an uneven director.  He has a very distinct style and sometimes that style is perfectly suited to the story that he’s telling (i.e., Carrie) and sometimes, all of that style just seems to get in the way (i.e. The Fury).  Scarface, however, is the ideal story for DePalma’s over-the-top aesthetic.  DePalma’s style may be excessive but Scarface is a film about excess so it’s a perfect fit.  For that matter, you could say the same thing about Oliver Stone’s screenplay.  Stone has since stated that he was using almost as much cocaine as Tony Montana while he wrote the script.  The end result of the combination of Stone’s script, DePalma’s hyperactive direction, Pacino’s overpowering lead performance, and Giorgio Moroder’s propulsive score is a film that feels as if every minute is fueled by cocaine.  It’s not just a film that’s about drugs.  It’s also a film that feels like a drug.

Scarface is a big movie.  It runs nearly three hours, following Tony from his arrival in the United States to his final moments in his mansion, taking hundreds of bullets while grandly announcing that he’s still standing.  (Even after all of the bad things that Tony has done — poor Manny! — it’s impossible not to admire his refusal to go down.)  It’s also a difficult movie to review, largely because almost everyone’s seen it and already has an opinion.  Personally, I think the film gets off to a strong start.  I think the scenes of Tony ruthlessly taking control of Frank’s empire are perfectly handled and I love the scenes where Pacino and Steven Bauer just bounce dialogue off of each other.  They’re like a comedy team who commits murder on the side.  I also loved the “Take it to the limit” montage, which belongs in the 80s Cinema Hall of Fame.  At the same time, I think the final third of the movie drags a bit and that Tony’s sudden crisis of conscience when he sees that a man that he’s supposed to murder has a family feels a bit forced.  It also bothers me that Elvira just vanishes from the film.  At the very least, the audience deserved more of an explanation as to where she disappeared to.

But no matter!  Flaws and all, Scarface is a violent satire that holds up surprisingly well.  Al Pacino’s unhinged performance as Tony Montana is rightly considered to be iconic.  Pacino’s gives such a powerhouse performance that it’s easy to forget that the rest of the cast is pretty impressive as well.  I particularly liked the wonderfully sleazy work of F. Murray Abraham and Paul Shenar.  That said, my favorite character in the film remains Elvira, if just because her clothes were to die for and she just seemed so incredibly bored with all of the violent men in her life.  She goes from being bored with Frank to being bored with Tony and how can you not admire someone who, even when surrounded by all Scarface’s excess, just refuse to care?

Scarface is an offer that you can’t refuse.

Previous Offers You Can’t (or Can) Refuse:

  1. The Public Enemy
  2. Scarface (1932)
  3. The Purple Gang
  4. The Gang That Could’t Shoot Straight
  5. The Happening
  6. King of the Roaring Twenties: The Story of Arnold Rothstein 
  7. The Roaring Twenties
  8. Force of Evil
  9. Rob the Mob
  10. Gambling House
  11. Race Street
  12. Racket Girls
  13. Hoffa
  14. Contraband
  15. Bugsy Malone
  16. Love Me or Leave Me
  17. Murder, Inc.
  18. The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre

An Offer You Can’t Refuse #2: Scarface (dir by Howard Hawks)


Before there was Tony Montana …. there was Tony Camonte!

And, of course, before there was Tony Camonte, there was Al Capone.  The 1932 film Scarface was one of the many gangster movies to be based on the life of Al Capone.  Capone and Tony Camonte even share the same nickname, though — unlike Camonte — Capone hated being called Scarface.  On the other hand, as played by the charismatic and cocky Paul Muni, Tony Camonte wears his scar like a badge of honor.  He says that he got his scar serving in the war.  His best friend, Guino (George Raft, a real-life gangster associate who became a star as a result of his performance in this film), says that the scar is the result of a bar fight.

In many ways, that scar tells you almost everything you need to know about Tony Camonte.  If you can look away from the scar, he’s a handsome and charismatic figure.  But when you see the scar, you’re reminded that his life is about violence.  Everything that Tony has is due to his violent nature and it’s somewhat inevitable that his end will also be due to that violence, not to mention his obsession with his sister, Cesca (Ann Dvorak).  It’s not just Tony’s face that’s scarred.  It’s his soul as well.

The film follows Tony, from his early days of working as a gunman for Johnny Lovo (Osgood Perkins) to his eventual usurpation of Lovo’s place as the king of the underworld.  Tony not only takes over Lovo’s rackets but he also goes after Lovo’s girlfriend, the glamorous Poppy (Karen Morley).  The well-bred Poppy may be dismissive of Tony’s ambitions but, as Tony shows her, he lives in the glow of a neon sign that announces, “The World Is Yours.”  That’s something that Tony truly believes and, for a while, the world is his.  He’s done with a gun what other do with lawyer and a clever accountant.  He’s achieved the American dream and he has the money and the beautiful lover to prove it.  Only for a while, though.  You reap what you sow.

The film recreates many scenes from Al Capone’s life.  One of Tony’s rivals is gunned down in a flower shop, much as happened to Dean O’Bannion when he challenged Capone’s power.  At another point, two of Tony’s men dress up like policemen and gun down rival gangsters, just as happened during the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.  The script was written by Ben Hecht, a Chicago native who had actually met Capone.  When Capone heard that Hecht was writing a film called Scarface, he sent two men to find out what the film was about.  Hecht assured them that the film was not about Capone but was instead a parody of the gangster genre.  Hecht was left alone but the fact that Capone was worried about his public image is quite a contrast to more recent stories about made men studying The Godfather, Goodfellas, and The Sopranos for tips on how to go about their business.  Of course, the film was made before Capone’s anticlimatic downfall so it’s not a combination of tax evasion and syphilis that ends Tony Camonte’s reign of terror.  Camonte goes out in a much more dramatically satisfying manner.

It’s a violent film.  It was a violent film for 1932 and, in some scenes, it’s a violent film for even today.  I’ve read that director Howard Hawks used live ammunition in the scenes that featured guns being fired.  In many of the scenes in which someone is portrayed as running for their lives, the actors in question were literally running and ducking for their lives.  Luckily, the cast survived making the film, though it’s been said that one crew member lost an eye.  Paul Muni went on to have a very distinguished film career, one that inspired future acting greats like John Garfield, Montgomery Clift, and Marlon Brando.  Despite his star-making turn as Muni’s best friend, George Raft’s career was not quite as distinguished, as he ended up turning down a chance to star in Casablanca.  Osgood Perkins’s son, Tony, would become a horror icon when he played Norman Bates.  And Boris Karloff went from portraying a bowling gangster in this film to playing the Monster in Frankenstein.

And, of course, the legacy of Scarface lives on, thanks to the 1983 remake starring Al Pacino.  There’s a third remake on the way, reportedly from Luca Guadagnino, who I guess decided that since he got away with tarnishing the legacy of Suspiria, he might as well go after another classic cult film.  Both versions of Scarface are rightly known as being classics of the gangster genre.  The 1983 version is great but so is the original.

Previous Offers You Can’t Refuse:

  1. The Public Enemy (1931)

4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Howard Hawks Edition


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

Today is the 124th anniversary of cinematic pioneer Howard Hawks!  Whether it’s gangster film, a western, or a screwball comedy, it’s hard to think of a single cinematic genre that doesn’t owe a debt of gratitude to Howard Hawks!

Here are….

4 Shots From 4 Films

Scarface (1932, dir by Howard Hawks)

Bringing Up Baby (1938, dir by Howard Hawks)

Red River (1948, dir by Howard Hawks)

Land of the Pharaohs (1955, dir by Howard Hawks)

6 Good Films That Were Not Nominated For Best Picture: The 1930s


1937 Oscar Banquet

Continuing our look at good films that were not nominated for best picture, here are 6 films from the 1930s.

Frankenstein (1931, dir by James Whale)

Henry Frankenstein may have created life and revolutionized the horror genre but his creation got absolutely no love from the Academy.  Starting a very long history of snubbing successful horror films, the Academy failed to nominate Frankenstein for Best Picture.  Not even Boris Karloff got a nomination!  Fortunately, the public recognized what the Academy failed to see and Frankenstein remains a classic film.

Scarface (1932, dir by Howard Hawks)

Gangster films may have been all the rage with the public in the 1930s but the Academy felt different.  Little Caesar, The Public Enemy, and Scarface may have excited audiences but none of them received much love from the Academy.  It was hard to decide which gangster film to specifically use for this post.  In the end, I went with Scarface because of George Raft and his sexy way with a coin.

King Kong (1933, directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack)

King Kong thrilled audiences, impressed critics, made a ton of money, and has gone on to influence just about every monster film made since.  It received zero Oscar nominations.

My Man Godfrey (1936, dir by Gregory La Cava)

My Man Godfrey, one of the best of the screwball comedies of the 1930s, received a total of 6 Oscar nominations.  It was nominated in all four of the acting categories.  It was nominated for best screenplay.  It was nominated for best director.  However, it was not nominated for Best Picture.  (My Man Godfrey is the first and, as of this writing, only film to receive four acting nominations without also receiving a nomination for best picture.)  Best Picture that year would go to The Great Ziegfield, which, like My Man Godfrey, starred William Powell.

Bringing Up Baby (1938, dir by Howard Hawks)

My Man Godfrey was not the only screwball comedy to be ignored by the Academy.  Bringing Up Baby features Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn at their best.  It also features an absolutely adorable leopard.  Somehow, it was not nominated for best picture.

The Women (1939, dir by George Cukor)

The competition was fierce in 1939.  If you want to know why 1939 is considered to be one of the best years in Academy History, just consider the ten films that actually were nominated for best picture: Dark Victory, Gone With The Wind, Goodbye Mr. Chips, Love Affair, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, Ninotchka, Of Mice and Men, Stagecoach, The Wizard of Oz, and Wuthering Heights.  Amazingly, even with that list of nominees, some equally good film went unnominated.  One of those films was The Women.

Based on Clare Boothe Luce’s play, The Women features a witty script, assured direction from George Cukor, and an amazing talented, all-female ensemble cast.  Though the competition was undeniably fierce in 1939, it’s still a shock that this film received not a single nomination.

Up next, in about an hour or so, the 1940s!

Scarface (1932)

A Scene That I Love: The Opening of Scarface


Produced by Martin Bregman, directed by Brian De Palma, written by Oliver Stone, and starring Al Pacino, the 1983 remake of Scarface is one of the best-known, most iconic gangster films ever made.  It opened to mixed reviews but it’s gone on to be recognized as a classic.  Everyone can quote the script:  “Say hello to my little friend!” “In this country, you gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power. Then when you get the power, then you get the women.”  “Say goodnight to the bad guy!”

Scarface starts with one of my favorite opening scenes of all time.  Powered by Giorgio Moroder’s score, the opening credits of Scarface play out over footage of the real-life Mariel boatlift.  Combined with footage of Fidel Castro ranting that Cuba does not need the Marielitos, this opening gives real-world credibility to everything that follows.  We then segue from the actual boatlift to Al Pacino as Tony Montana, answering questions with that shit-eating grin on his face.

Listen to the interrogation scene carefully and you’ll hear both Charles Durning and Dennis Franz, dubbing the lines of the actors who played the immigration agents.

4 Shots From 4 Films: In Memory of Martin Bregman


Long-time producer Martin Bregman died yesterday at the age of 92.  Bregman, who started out as a talent agent, was well-known for producing several of Al Pacino’s best films.  This edition of 4 Shots From 4 Films is dedicated to his memory.

4 Shots From 4 Films

Serpico (1973, directed by Sideny Lumet)

Dog Day Afternoon (1975, directed by Sidney Lumet)

Scarface (1983, directed by Brian De Palma)

Carlito’s Way (1993, directed by Brian De Palma)

 

 

6 Trailers For A Saturday Afternoon


Hi.  It’s Saturday and that can only mean that it’s time for any edition of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse and Exploitation Trailers!

1) Crater Lake Monster (1977)

This is one of those films that seems to show up in a dozen or so public domain DVD compilation packs.  The “lake” in this film looks a lot like White Rock Lake and when I first saw this film, I was convinced it had actually been filmed down here in Dallas.  However, I subsequently found that there actually is a Crater Lake up in Oregon.  There’s no word yet on whether or not there’s any monsters living in that lake but you have to figure there would be, what with it being Oregon and all.

2) Shogun Assassin (1980)

Just the story of a single dad and his baby.  Awwwwww!

3) 100 Rifles (1969)

Obviously, this was one of the many American attempts to make a Spaghetti western.  “This film has a message…”

4) Soylent Green (1973)

Yes, we all know what’s in Soylent Green.

5) Xtro (1982)

Oh my God, this trailer freaks me out!

6) Scarface (1983)

Oh, stop it.  I don’t care how many “respectable” actors are in the film, you know that Scarface is like totally a grindhouse film.